Pounding the streets of
Historian Fred Hughes writes....
This is where the author Fred Leigh lived as a child. Through the pages of his acclaimed book Sentinel Street, he lets us into the lives of the characters of his childhood; miniature men and women creeping around cramped unhealthy cobblestone alleys, inhabiting draughty terraced houses, existing through poverty and means tests, dole, hand-me-down clothes, providence clubs and pawn shops. In Fred’s time it was Brook Street and Clarence Street, now it’s called Century Street.
The Loop Line closed in 1963. And so did a mineral line linking Shelton Bar with Hanley Deep Pit. You can still make out its direction of travel marked by a greenway, ending forlornly at a blocked-up tunnel entrance. Skips wait outside boarded-up houses. Torn curtains flap in broken windows. Ugly graffiti sprays cynical messages on gateless walls along litter-strewn back alleys. In this village in limbo Derek and Jayne Horton keep a corner shop opposite the Portland Inn.
“Nobody is telling us straight,” says one resident preferring not to be named. “I’ve lived in this street for forty-years. I knew everybody and we all looked out for each other. But the trend of absent landlords has brought about the worst aspects. A lot of houses are boarded up; some already have been knocked down. Look at my house though. I’ve spent a fortune on its modernisation and decoration. Who’s going to compensate me for what it’s actually worth?”
“The land came into our family a hundred years ago,” explains the owner 57 year old Tony Carter. “It was owned by my great-grandmother Fanny Wilshaw. The building you mention was a pub called the White Horse. I don’t remember it being a pub; it was always used as a house and office. My great-grandmother was a scrap metal dealer. She’d sit in the yard with a bag of coins weighing and buying metal. Then my grandmother took over. Her name was Frances but everybody knew her as Girlie. She married into the Carter family and my dad George ran the business until he retired. Now I run it with my son Simon.”
Around the corner Blackwell’s Row once neighboured with Churchill Pottery. And that’s gone as well.
“It’s all change around here these days,” says Tony. “Come back in five years and it might be different again. Who knows?”
Visually pride of place goes to the Raven pub on the corner of Sneyd Street whose owners are Simon and Sarah Cullen.
“It is a very old establishment,” says Simon. “We’ve been here three years and have built up a steady trade of returning ex-pats. The Raven has had a chequered life; it was a biker’s pub awhile ago when its name then was the Pot ‘o Beer. I think we’ve got the balance right though now. Being a publican is a hard job these days; it’s increasingly hard to make a decent living. But I try to provide the facilities a good pub should be known for – hospitality, good food and drink.”
The exotically named Raven is of mid-Victorian origin, three storeys with added bays and a jumble of rooms that correspond to its traditional charm.
“This is old Cobridge,” says Steve. “Its history goes back into the mists of the early settlements. To put it into the historic timeline of the district we should have a more detailed look around its old lanes.”
And we shall Steve, next week.
next week: Cobridge & the old lanes
7 February 2008